FLIGHT AND FURY (RIPTIDES #1)

arms of the ocean

In a world where shape-shifters are divided into kingdoms, the sea children and sky children are at war over stolen magic.

Amber is a sea daughter, the last surviving royal who has been hidden on a remote island ever since she was eight. Training as an apprentice in a black market for dark magic, she has no recollection of the traumatic siege that killed her family … until a mysterious winged stranger shows up one day at her window, wounded and bloody.

As Amber plunges into her watery memories, she discovers an entire race of sea children adrift, waiting for her to piece back her fractured kingdom. To do so, Amber has to battle an unruly ancient magic, enemies out for blood, and the stirrings of her own heart.

FLIGHT AND FURY is the first installment of the Riptides Trilogy, a YA fantasy series.

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writing mood for today

I’m clearing my annual leaves for the year, and this frees up loads more time to write! Brings me back to the early job-hunting days and semester breaks in school when I had ample time to clock in 3,000 words a day while querying literary agents. Good times.

So. What to write next? That fantasy novel that’s been brewing in my head for almost a year, or that magical realism one that I’ve already plotted out in excruciating detail? Third-person POV, or first? Write by the seat of my figurative pants or solidify every single plot and detail first? Decisions, decisions.

But first, Pinterest.

I guess we have an answer ;0)

Happy (Black) Friday, everyone! Don’t cave in to unnecessary wants!

Short Story Saturday – Vertigo

http://vmficrecs.tumblr.com/post/101493531235/november-veronica-mars-fic-prompts

It was a steep drop. A long, long way down. Further than she had ever dared to try.

But she had nothing to lose by falling. All she would end up with were a few shattered bones and torn skin, and these didn’t even last. She healed, sooner than she would have liked. She wanted something that would leave its mark, just so she wouldn’t have to feel the constant ache from the ugly, jagged stumps on her back where her wings used to be.

The brackish waters crashed and foamed beneath her, unnecessarily dramatic. She lifted a foot. They were ungainly things, nothing like wings that bore her aloft in an intimate dance with the wind. She hardly ever shifted if she could help it. But now, with her wings ripped off, legs were all she had.

She tipped her head to the sky and raised her arms, ready to leap off the rocky edge of the cliff –

“Suicide, Megonea? How very melodramatic of you.”

She froze. The voice had the power to do that to her every time. She had weathered every element there was, but Finnesias continued to flay her to the bone.

“This is none of your business, Finne,” she called over her shoulder, but her arms fell back to her sides in defeat.

“On the contrary, I have a vested interest in your welfare. A soldier who deserts rank in the name of love might prove our most valuable asset.”

She whirled around and spat. “I am an asset to no one.”

“Oh, come now. Have some faith in yourself.”

He took a step closer. Megonea forced herself to remain where she was. She would retain what was left of her dignity in front of the pompous leader of the Rebellion. To think they used to train together when they were recruits; they could not be more different now. Finne with his lazy smile and cunning in his eyes (though he would rather use the word shrewdness), he never had and never would belong to the Empire Army.

“Why are you here, Finne.”

“Rescuing you from a terrible, terrible decision.”

“You are hardly qualified to save me.”

“Yet, here I am, succeeding in stalling for time.”

She turned back to face the sea. Part of her wanted to hide her ruined wings from his sight, but then she reminded herself that she no longer cared. This fate she had chosen for herself was far kinder than what lay in wait for her in the sky palace.

Suddenly, he was right behind her, his breath dangerously warm against her skin. His fingers brushed the left stump on her back. She flinched, felt the muscles in her neck tighten but also a tingle in her skin where his breath landed.

“Let’s make a deal,” he murmured. “If the Rebellion fails, I’ll jump with you. For now, we’re sticking together. Just like old times, eh?”

Megonea wasn’t sure what Finne meant by old times, because not once in their shared history had they ever stuck together. Before she could recall a time where they weren’t on opposite sides, Finne had given her a hard shove in the back.

He would, Megonea thought. Of course he would. She was a fool to have thought otherwise. With her dead, he had one less Empirion to deal with.

She was footloose, tumbling down with none of the grace she held when she was sparring. Air rushed past her with the ferocity of a Black Kite’s wings and a shriek ripped its way out of her.

It was a much further drop than she anticipated.

Fiction Friday – Night Siege

Prompt 513

That evening, we knew something was wrong when the night birds didn’t fly our way.

It was the third full moon of the year, so Kayla and I joined the older girls in sneaking out to see the night birds, the way we had been doing for three springs now. Parents knew about their girls stealing up to shore to watch the silent beasts sail across the skies, and did all they could to deter us.

“Don’t trust anything with wings,” was what our father told us. They were thieves, every one of them. They stole your trust, and then your magic. Finally, they stole you.

Still, the horror stories they told us about the winged creatures couldn’t kill their allure.

Besides, the birds – a motley assortment of jays, eagles, hawks, and albatrosses – had never once tried to harm us. Even when they landed on the shore and shook out their wings and transformed into tall, strapping young men with eyes that flashed like lightning under the moonlight.

The older girls would whisper and giggle over the one with the strong jaw, or the one with the dimpled smile, while Kayla and I shared a glance that contained all the words the older girls were saying. At fourteen and sixteen, we still blushed at the sight of the men.

I knew my sister’s gaze lingered on one of them in particular: the tawny eagle with driftwood-brown feathers. She would watch it fold its wings around itself before, in a ripple of stardust and moonshine, turning into a young man just slightly older than Kayla.

The first person I noticed, though, was the boy. He was barely a man yet the first time I saw him, a wiry stranger significantly younger than the rest. The boy – Eylar was his name – stood out from the rest with his sleek, downy feathers the colour of sun-bleached bones. The sea eagle. Each year, he filled out more and more, body taking on harder, leaner lines. His gaze became keener, as did the planes of his face, and his shock of coppery-red hair darkened into a deep russet tone. But there was wonder in his eyes, and laughter in his voice that made me think of milky skies and jewel waters.

They were soldiers from the north, I gathered, who stopped by the deserted beach on their way to the sea-ravaged eastern islands, which were inhospitable at best and perilous at worst. None of us knew what they did there. They went deep into the dark heart of the forest with their crude metal weaponry (that Father always scoffed at) and disappeared for several moonrises until they took to their wings again and headed back north.

Once, Kayla and I decided to follow them. We stole away from the other girls and tailed the soldiers into the forest, pushing through the wall of trees blackened by night.

They kept a brisk pace, navigating their way through the tangled undergrowth with practiced ease, while Kayla and I stumbled along in their wake, waking the forest with our ungainly steps. But we had gone mostly unheard and ignored.

We traipsed for what seemed like an entire moon cycle, finally coming to a stop in a clearing. There, the soldiers gathered around a pile of rocks as tall as them. Light glowed from the spaces in the rubble like a trapped sun.

It took me a longer time than Kayla to understand what they were doing.

“Thieves,” Kayla hissed, sounding very much like Great-Aunt Basil, who had lost her husband in the last border war. “They’ve been coming here all this time to steal earth magic.”

I wanted to tell her that magic didn’t belong to anyone, not to the earth creatures or to us, the sea children. But the last time I suggested that to Father, he had laughed in a way that made me feel like I was five years old again.

We never told our parents what we saw in that clearing.

*

Tonight, the birds didn’t come. The sky was bruised and barren with wanting.

The girls and I held out out for a break in the clouds, a ripple in the air from their silent wingbeats. When it became increasingly certain that the birds weren’t coming, the older girls got bored and slunk back into the inky water, making a grudging splash with their tails.

Kayla tugged on my hand. “Come on, Amber. They’re not coming.”

I stayed where I was, half-hidden by a rock on the warm sand. With the other girls gone, the water became black glass again. Water lapped at us, eager to take us home, but all I could think of was that pure white plumage.

Kayla gave my hand another tug, and I almost let her. But as Kayla disappeared beneath the surface with a soft splash, a solitary shadow loomed overhead. It cut through the clouds, a blot in the sky, its wings reflecting the pearly moonlight.

I couldn’t move even if I tried.

He was half-human by the time he landed on the beach, his feet slipping onto the sand as though he weighed nothing. He folded his wings behind his back, and I recognised that shock of russet-brown hair.

He was alone tonight. Without the rest, he seemed out of place this close to the sea, like an errant sky creature breaking rank. Maybe he was.

Kayla voice at my ear made me jump. “Why’s he the only one here?”

Before I could tell her to hide, Eylar had spotted us. Maybe he had already found us from afar. But the time he closed the distance between us, he had shifted to human form completely. There was a newfound, inhuman grace that now sat within him. He was no longer the sinewy boy I had first caught sight of among the armoured men, but a man himself.

A chill snaked down my back, and I didn’t think it was due to the night breeze. I tried to focus on his gaze, not on the firm set of his shoulders.

“They are coming for you. All of you.” His first words to us were as cold as the steel of his eyes.

“We should go,” Kayla said. She had on that look when we stumbled into old crone Helgina’s shipwreck house, like we were better off keeping a wide berth from it.

“Yes, go. Take everyone dear to you and leave while you still can.”

The end is coming sooner than you think, Helgina had intoned. No one had believed her – Father had almost driven her out of the border in a pique – but after her public proclamation I’d had recurring dreams of giant hook-beaked birds swooping towards the water, their talons grasping for us.

“Is it true?” I said Eylar now. There was no lie in his eyes, but no warmth either, so different from the wide-eyed boy learning how to wield a sword on the beach.

“Come on, Amber.” Kayla gave me a sharp tug. “Let’s go home.”

“Your home is not safe,” Eylar said. “Go to dry land, deep into the forest, another island.”

“We will perish there,” Kayla snapped. I squeezed her hand.

“Your magic can certainly keep you alive.” His voice didn’t contain the usual bitterness that the sky people had when they spoke of us, the sea children.

Kayla stuck out her chin. “Well, then. Let them come. The sky children are no match for us.”

“They are with the Inferno.”

“Fire,” Kayla scoffed. The sea was our protection, away from the reaches of earthly elements.

“The Inferno,” Eylar corrected. “It is far from your regular fire. It can plunge into the depths of the sea and devastate everything in its path in less time than it takes for a sea storm to brew.”

“We have no reason to believe a word you say.”

“You don’t,” he agreed. “But every second you stand here doubting me, the Indigo Army bears closer.”

There were many ways I had envisioned my first encounter with Eylar, but none of them turned out like this. I wished I had never come up to shore tonight.

“Why are you helping us?” I managed to ask.

“This war has nothing to do with you. Besides, there is no glory in winning a dirty fight.”

A shriek rent the still air, cutting off Kayla’s response. From the south, a firestorm rolled towards us. Unlike Eylar’s crew, the incoming flock was a uniform army of brown-grey hawks whose wings were alight with immortal flames.

Father had been right. The winged thieves were always going to be our enemies. They would not stop until they had stolen all our magic.

“Go,” Eylar roared, shaking me out of my thoughts. “I can stave them off with the fire” – he gestured at the pile of burning rocks behind him – “but only for so long.”

Kayla squeezed my hand. We tore down the beach, but there was only flames burning infernal all around us. Sky beasts tore through the skin of the sea, screaming murder.

Fiction Friday – Repair the Dead

This week’s flash fic turned out to be another character study for Indigo Tides. I sure hope I don’t end up with more characters than I know what to do with them!

I didn’t have a clue what I was setting out to write at first, but as always the story took shape the more I wrote. (Love it when that happens.) Maybe, paradoxical as it might seem, this is the best cure for writer’s block: to keep writing.

Also, I discovered this amazing dubstep piano piece, which fit perfectly into the mood/setting for Indigo Tides and this short story.

All that drama! All the imagery! It’s impossible not to come up with a story after listening to this.

*

Repair the Dead

 

His human hands were useless in a fight.

Tight and scarred, the knuckles red and raw with blisters, they were meant for minute, intricate things like mending and tithing. They were hands that gave and gave, hands that healed and paid the currency of magic. His hands were not meant to wield brute force the weight of a machete.

He identified with the sea children, at least where they employed their strength. Magic took a lot more out of one than a physical fight did, but they produced twice the desired results.

If only they had the sea children’s knowledge. But for ages, from Halcyon to Desolation, his people had been children borne of the air. They had no advanced knowledge of the magical arts and relied on their rigorous training in the war arts instead. Simply put, his people were fighters. Soldiers. Puppets. Pawn.

Dolonit had no idea what to do with a sword when presented with it; he even dropped it when Maldar, his sparring partner in the practice courtyard, delivered a lightning strike to his arm.

The pain that magic required, on the other hand, was visceral – it carved holes in his soul, did damage that was invisible to the naked eye. The pain from an open wound, however, was different from what he was used to. It was present, wicked, and tangible in terms of the blood drawn, the length and depth of the cut, and quantifiable in the number of stitches.

Dolonit scrambled for his sword. His other hand grasped his injured arm, but he was making a mess with his blood all over the concrete stage.

Maldar stooped before him in a display of solidarity meant for their audience, among whom sat the new general, hulking and haw-eyed like a different breed of monster.

“We might have more faith in a pair of hands that can do more than stitching up the weak and repairing the dead,” he said, his voice pressed low against Dolonit’s ear. “Imagine what might have resulted of sending you to the killing fields.”

Dolonit knew the swordsman had never quite forgiven him for being chosen as a Healer, and instead devoted himself to mastering his battle skills so that one day he might prove a more worthy apprentice.

Now’s not the time for petty old vendetta or slippery fingers, Dol, he thought, tightening his grip on his sword and getting to his feet. He swung his sword the way Yuzoff taught him and went at Maldar. You have a job. Do it well. For the sake of those who have died, if not for the Empire. 

But the more he thought about those who died, the weaker his grasp became. What were they holding on to, when after all this they had lost way more than they gained? The Emperor had promised a brighter future for every citizen of the Empire, and all they needed was to acquire the sea children’s magic. But all he saw was devastation at the expense of their own people. He had had to mend comrades who turned pale, sweaty and delirious with pain, patch together limbs that had been ripped apart, remove malicious skeins of magic threaded with veins so that the slightest movement agonising pain –

The shriek of steel against steel, and he snapped to attention … only to find Maldar’s sword scraping past his to find his heart. The tip drew tauntingly close – Dolonit’s eyes squeezed shut – before stopping short against him. Dolonit felt the press of ice-cold metal through the fabric, the drumming of his heart, the hungry anticipation of the crowd.

Maldar himself was a terrible picture of malevolence, a sneer of spiteful glee twisting his arrow-like face. “The enemy, my dear Dolonit, has not the same inhibitions as I do now. They will not hesitate to finish off a replacement soldier.” He retracted his blade and straightened.

Getting to his feet, the Healer dropped his sword – or rather, he tossed it aside. The clank of steel against concrete rang louder than he expected it to, but rather than wince, he made sure his voice sounded just as strong.

His gaze sought the general’s in the crowd. Dolonit launched his words forth like stones right into the stillness of the courtyard. “I am not a fighter. This war brings no victory to me, only death. Find better use for these hands.”

At that, the courtyard erupted in sound and fury. Dolonit left it all in his trail and headed back to his chamber, where more dead and ravaged bodies awaited him.

 

*

Flash Fiction Friday – Makeshift

Today, I discovered that the amazing dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling (from America’s Got Talent) has a new album out. ‘Tis a good day.

This track in particular, Roundtable Rival, stood out as I was wrote today’s flash fiction:

Yup. THAT is Lindsey Stirling.

So with that, as well as this writing prompt,

here is this week’s short story.

 

 

*

 


Makeshift

 

 

It was there in the dusky, dusty chamber of the abandoned building that they made camp. Settling by the missing clock face, where the only shaft of light managed to edge in past the rusted hands, they got to work.

Mietha’s soldiers were trained for speed and accuracy, be it in battle or menial tasks like forging weapons. The best of them had had years of training in the sky children’s primitive technology. This time, they had one more thing on their side: Earth magic. It was not quite as advanced as that of the sea children, but here on this island in the human world, they were able to acquire what they needed from the black market.

Now, they set up their equipment: glass bowls and tin canisters, sandalwood for accelerated kindling, and rows and rows of bones meant for more meticulous arrangement later.

Their exiled general had been stranded at the island for long enough. In times like this, ranks were a secondary consideration, hierarchy demolished. And if anyone thought it was madness to trust in the two girls who would help conceal them from the rest of the human world, none of them voiced their dissent.

There in the quiet isolation of the abandoned building, with its crumbling walls and splintered roof shutters that let in the faint moonlight, the renegade rebels worked at twice their regular speed, creating more bodies for their disguise, their deception … never realising how close they came to being discovered by the white-tailed kite circling in the sky.

 

*

 

The Raptor, second in command to the missing prince of the renegade army, was having no luck with the bloodstone. After shifting into her human form and settling into a decrepit red-bricked building for more privacy, she had spent the better part of the hour trying to exhume the magic within the stone.

But the stone had a will of its own, and it was not relinquishing its secrets, no matter how she strained over it.

The Raptor — or Kivyn, as she was more commonly known among her kite family — flung the bloodstone across the room. It made a resonant clatter in the drafty, hollow quarters.

Curse these humans and their crude magic! How barbaric, how elementary — and not to mention messy — to use blood for magic.

It struck her as ironic that a Raptor, notorious for her ability to shred her enemies with her claws and blind them with her beak, would find something barbaric.

Time was running out for her. The monarchy was disintegrating back home, and the soldiers were rebelling. If she couldn’t find the crown prince, then the very least she could do was restore some order.

But prince or not, she couldn’t leave this world without Eylar. She didn’t know what he was to her, but she knew he was the only person she had ever trusted and cared for. And she would be damned if she let this world steal him away.

 

*

 

The rebel renegades froze at the sound of the clatter, the blood slowing in their veins. They were so close — it would be a terrible shame if they were forced to abandon their near-complete work now.

With renewed intensity, they completed the ritual. The sisters would be here soon, but first the soldiers had to get used to their new flesh, and learn to shift in and out with relative ease. It was tricky to grasp the intricacies of shifting — the best of them took weeks — but now they were to master their new bodies in the space of hours.

This rescue mission was doomed from the start, but they had to take whatever chance they had to steal their general back from the forgotten coast of Bastiron before the new emperor could recruit her — recruit being a far kinder term than what he would actually do.

This slaughter campaign was not for them, nor was annihilating the sea kingdom. What they would fight for, however, was the restoration of the old civilisation, the one that was now buried under this avalanche of hate and jealousy and fear.

 

*

 

When the rebel soldiers each stripped off their worn, battered bodies and stepped into their new flesh, so too did the Raptor shift into her creature self before taking off into the night in search of the blood she needed.

So opposing in their causes, but so similar in their execution. Chance was a concept often scorned by the renegades. But here they were, stepping into a makeshift life and taking all the chances they could to save their mangled home.

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday – Dream Kingdom

I don’t know if this should be considered flash fiction, since it’s longer than 1,000 words. Maybe it should be “what the hell am I writing” fiction, except it’s not an official genre yet.

Anyway, done with this. Back to Blood Promise. Have a good weekend! :0)

 

*

 

 

Dream Kingdom

 

No one else saw the palace in the reflection. Which didn’t surprise me as much as it should have.  I was used to being privy to the secrets of the world – I paid attention to it, and in return it let me see its hidden beauty, listen to its favourite songs, and dream its magical dreams.

When I first told Josie about the palace I saw on that rainy day, I hadn’t even expected her to believe me. But she only said, “Show me,” with that dire look in her eyes that meant I had better not let her down.

I did, though. I didn’t mean to, but I did. Even when I pointed hard at the image in the water – it’s just right there, can’t you see it? – and even when she scrunched up her face and glared at it like it was offending her by not appearing, all she saw was a smooth blank puddle and on it, the light scattered by a recent storm.

She didn’t see the glimmer and gloss of the high glass windows as the sun slid across the sky, the iridescent lights the palace walls gave off, the weird clouds of mist that danced around the palace and entangled themselves with the spires, or the great birds that roosted atop the clock tower, which housed not a clock but a constantly shifting map of the stars. I knew they shifted because I had observed them long enough, days and weeks and months of staring at reflective surface – a mirror, a puddle of water, a window.

Josie always said I was good at building castles in the sky.

But this was no daydream. If only I could convince Josie so! But people find it hard to believe the things they can’t see. And they find it hard to accept the things they don’t believe in.

 

*

 

When I finally managed to enter the palace, it was only in a dream. By then, it was obvious this palace wanted to stay hidden, so I was almost unsurprised to see it in my dream.

It was hard to look at the palace directly at first. Not only was it too big for the scope of my vision, every inch of the palace was covered in precious stones – dazzling diamonds, lush emeralds and sapphires and rubies fat and red as crystallised blood – that broke the sunlight into iridescent shards.

There were the giant birds going about their slow, lazy circles in the air. Guards, I soon realised. They were not ordinary birds: their wings could span as wide as building heights and shrink to an arm’s length, and in their eyes was a canniness that was more human than bird, more thinker than soldier.

The palace was rich not because of the jewels and stones its walls were encrusted with, or the gilded marble floors that gave off its own music when you tread across the high-vaulted halls. It was rich with the scent of some exotic bloom I had never before encountered, the mellifluous voices that broke into song the moment I pushed open the doors to the hall, and the splash of pastel-coloured lights everywhere.

The palace was alive, and it had a mind of its own. It had ideas on where to take you, sliding around freely as though in mid-air, so that you tumbled down hallways and bustled through doors. Deeper and deeper you went into its heart.

And then what? More birds?

As it turned out, it was a queen.

There in the heart of the labyrinth she sat, on a burnished dais. Her crown was spiked with crystals against the scarlet and ebony headpiece that fanned out behind her head. Her robe, a crimson river that flowed from her shoulder down the steps, was matted with dust. She looked like a mannequin in a store – an exquisite display in a glass case – but there was something strangely, keenly, alive about her, as though she was silently observing you the way the palace was.

I kept waiting for her to open her eyes or acknowledge me, but no amount of throat clearing or greeting could rouse her. It was like she was trapped, waiting, in that dormant state.

“She won’t wake,” came a voice, no louder than a whisper in my ear, making me cry out in surprise. My voice bounced off the high walls.

In spite of myself, I said, “Not ever?”

“Not until the sea children cease their petty games and release us from this spell. Whoever heard of a palace cast adrift from its kingdom?”

I had no idea where this was leading to, or where it even started, but I tried to offer the best suggestion I could think of. “So talk to them. Can the sea children be made to see reason?”

“You won’t be able find them even with reason on your side. They’ve disappeared. They’ve all disappeared. And now the queen is in limbo, as is the fate of all her people.”

“I don’t understand.” By now, I was half yearning to leave this dream.

But the palace was not letting me out of its thrall until it had made its point. “You have to find the sea children. Save us, save our queen.”

“But I don’t know how to.”

The desperation in the air came in waves. First as a shrieking wind that ripped through the hall, then as a tectonic disturbance.

As I cried my apologies, the ground juddered beneath my feet. My arms flailed for balance, but I only tumbled to the ground, then rolled across it and slammed against the wall as the palace continued to rock in fury.

“Find the sea children,” it implored. “Save us.”

The light outside had dimmed to a sickly shade of yellow, and a frosty draft swirled around the hall. Gone were the music, the kaleidoscope of colours, and the warm sunlight streaming in through the windows. I saw this cold marble and glass palace for what it truly was: encrusted in jewels but bereft and barren.

“Find the sea children. Save our queen.”

 

*

 

When I opened my eyes again, there was only Josie’s face hovering above mine. Her breath, shallow and hot, fanned my face.

“Melly!” she cried, gripping me by the shoulders. She gave me a violent shake that jolted me wide awake.

“We have to find the sea children,” was all I said as I struggled to catch my breath. “We have to save the queen!”

Josie’s grip went slack. “How did you know about the sea children?”

 

*

 

(To be continued??)